At twenty-three, Dexter Mayhew’s vision of his future was no clearer than Emma Morley’s. He hoped to be successful, to make his parents proud and to sleep with more than one woman at the same time, but how to make these all compatible? He wanted to feature in magazine articles, and hoped one day for a retrospective of his work, without having any clear notion of what that work might be. He wanted to live life to the extreme, but without any mess or complications. He wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph. Things should look right. Fun; there should be a lot of fun and no more sadness than absolutely necessary.
It wasn’t much of a plan, and already there had been mistakes. Tonight, for instance, was bound to have repercussions: tears and awkward phone-calls and accusations. He should probably get out of here as soon as possible, and he glanced at his discarded clothes in preparation for his escape. From the bathroom came the warning rattle and bang of an ancient toilet cistern, and he hurriedly replaced the book, finding beneath the bed a small yellow Colman’s mustard tin that he flipped open to confirm that, yes, it did contain condoms, along with the small grey remains of a joint, like a mouse dropping. With the possibility of sex and drugs in a small yellow tin he felt hopeful again, and decided that he might stay a little longer at least.
In the bathroom, Emma Morley wiped the crescents of toothpaste from the corner of her mouth and wondered if this was all a terrible mistake. Here she was, after four romantically barren years, finally, finally in bed with someone she really liked, had liked since she’d first seen him at a party in 1984, and in just a few hours he’d be gone. Forever probably. He was hardly likely to ask her to go to China with him, and besides she was boycotting China. And he was alright, wasn’t he? Dexter Mayhew. In truth she suspected he wasn’t all that bright, and a little too pleased with himself, but he was popular and funny and – no point fighting it – very handsome. So why was she being so stroppy and sarcastic? Why couldn’t she just be self-confident and fun, like those scrubbed, bouncy girls he usually hung around with? She saw the dawn light at the tiny bathroom window. Sobriety. Scratching at her awful hair with her fingertips, she pulled a face, then yanked the chain of the ancient toilet cistern and headed back into the room.
From the bed, Dexter watched her appear in the doorway, wearing the gown and mortar board that they’d been obliged to hire for the graduation ceremony, her leg hooked mock-seductively around the doorframe, her rolled degree certificate in one hand. She peered over her spectacles and pulled the mortar board down low over one eye. ‘What d’you think?’
‘Suits you. I like the jaunty angle. Now take it off and come back to bed.’
Just in time for the film release today, I finished reading David Nicholls ‘One Day‘. I have to say that the ads I’ve been hearing on the radio do not inspire any confidence in me that this is a film worth seeing, but I could be wrong. The film reviews seem to be all over the map. SF Chronicle LOVED it. Rolling Stone HATED it. Lots in between. The book, at least, is worth reading. Especially if you can get it for free from the library.
Dexter and Emma met in college, and while she had her eyes on him for all four years, he finally really notices her at a graduation party, after which they end up in bed, wondering if they will ever see each other again. Both of them hoping that they will.
One Day takes the story of Dex and Em, Em and Dex, and follows it through the next (almost) 20 years, popping in to check on them every July 15. It’s an interesting conceit, and one that allows glimpses into their lives, but is frustrating because you often wish you knew what had happened just last week or perhaps what would happen next month. Their lives are not parallel exactly, they are always friends, always in each others’ thoughts, though not always in close contact. Their careers veer in wildly different directions, as do their romantic relationships.
Where the story succeeds is in the fears and hopes of Dexter and Emma along the way. The fear of failure, the dreams of success, the way that friendships strengthen and fade. Nicholls does a good job of expressing the emotions of people in their 20s and their 30s. As Dexter struggles to define what is important to him, struggles to find his value, I found myself often wanting to slap him and make him wake up to the world around him. On quite a few July 15ths, he’s full of himself, full of alcohol and drugs, full of self-destructive behavior and pain. Emma’s journey is less dramatic, but no less real, and I sometimes wanted to slap her as well. She also has her own successes and failures, and her own self-destructive bent. Through it all, they weave in and out of friendship, in and out of each others’ lives, secretly jealous of each others’ romances, sometimes jealous of each others’ successes, usually sad at each others’ failures.
The writing is smart and clever enough, the characters real enough. One Day is at first glimpse a quick beach read, but once involved, you find that it’s more nuanced. I liked that the story begins in 1988, which is the year that Ted and I were first dating and falling in love. Reading about two people who are the same age that we were at the same time had its own distinct pleasure. I enjoyed One Day, though I didn’t love love love it. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.